Downtown walk offers a glimpse into grassroots art

Museum of Neon Art

Neon. It’s the flush in Vegas’ seedy cheek and the demo of atomic excitability in your 100-level science class. It’s the buzzing vacancy sign at a no-tell motel and the ghostly luminescence of industrialism. If you’re like most people, neon does not mean art; yet what better to shed light on the spectrum of human emotions and impressions than with a medium that draws us like moths from the dark?

Photo courtesy of Esotouric

Photo courtesy of Esotouric

The Museum of Neon Art begs the same question in this month’s Art Walk. Co-founded by Lili Lakich (with an autobiography dubbed Neon Lovers Glow In The Dark) and Richard Jenkins in 1981 as a non-profit outpost of this radiant work, MONA has flickered through three venues but still blazes on. Neon marquees from Hollywood’s golden era, modern abstract pieces and “kinetic art” rotate through the gallery every six months; others hang around for good. All this electricity crackles behind the museum’s glowing mascot, “Mona,” who declares herself to Downtown, a lurid sketch of Leonardo’s infamous portrait.

Neon is very much alive and well — in fact, production classes are offered to kindergarten-through university-level students at MONA — but like all art, breakthrough technologies and styles threaten to overshadow fading fads. Laboring to power Los Angeles’ vintage charm, the museum has revved up the LUMENS project, which seeks to reinstall and rekindle original neon signs under the curative oversight of current director Kim Koga.

Every Art Walk is stimulating, but it’s safe to say September’s iteration will literally be electric.

—Hilary Lazerus

The Hippodrome

The Downtown Art Walk’s main inter-event transportation is a spray-painted former school bus packed with live performances, book readings and art talks called the Hippodrome. Always packed and always free, the Hippodrome — the only bus in town with a set list of acts — stops on request and wherever you flag it down. Operated by LA’s under-the-radar bus-adventure company Esotouric — whose owner runs the entire Art Walk—the Hippodrome’s entertainment schedule reads like a twisted children’s birthday party. This month’s on-board offerings were curated by the Ukelady — a woman who sings cutesy songs on the native Hawaiian instrument — and includes performances from Lucas Gonze, Dick ’N’ Jane and Accordian player Anna Holmer. The Hippodrome shuttle circles Spring and Main Streets from 6-10 p.m., trolling for Art Walk goers who need a ride. And if you plan on catching a specific performer’s set, make sure to catch the bus early.

—Sarah Bennett

Walking Tours

When Richard Schave took over management of the Downtown Art Walk in July, he implemented a monthly series of free walking tours hosted by a quirky cast of local guides who give tours as unique as their personalities. Downtown chiropractor Dr. Boris Mayzels shows off the buildings and streets his family helped shape; Ed Rosenthal — the broker with an artist’s heart — explores his most-loved historic core hideaways; Mike the PoeT conducts his hour-long tour entirely in freestyle spoken word prose; and Crimebo the Clown trash talks gentrification while waving a decapitated doll on a stick. Even Schave conducts an informative tour, going over the non-profit event’s purpose and how it fits into the Core’s fascinating history. This month’s tours leave famous Clifton’s Cafeteria in 15-minute intervals starting at 6 p.m. With four different ways to experience the Art Walk, first timers and veterans alike are sure to get a new perspective on Downtown culture.

—Sarah Bennett